Football is, by nature, a rough game — players give and receive hard hits as part of their jobs, putting enormous physical strain on their bodies, and often sustaining multiple concussions and other head injuries throughout their careers. But only more recently have the serious long-term effects of repeated head trauma come to light. Many retired players, once gridiron gladiators, find themselves dealing with debilitating brain injuries that worsen as they age.
In late August 2013, the National Football League (NFL), a $10 billion enterprise, agreed to settle a class action suit brought by 4,500 retired players for head injuries they suffered during their NFL careers. The action was settled for $765 million.
Our firm represents clients suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBIs, such as concussions, often have permanent, disabling effects and commonly result from blows to the head. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive, incurable disease that can develop as a result of one or more TBIs.
Positive identification of CTE can only be made after death, a process undertaken by scientists at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy in a study that analyzed brain samples from 85 deceased persons, almost all of whom played sports. The study found that 80 percent suffered from CTE, including 33 former NFL players.
Among samples studied were those from Dave Duerson, who played most of his career with the Chicago Bears. His professional and personal life fell to ruins as his ability to function declined, and Mr. Duerson committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, leaving a text message that his brain should be examined by Boston University for the CTE he suspected he suffered.
The following are some common symptoms of CTE:
- Depression, loss of executive thinking function
- Poor impulse control, including rage
- Memory loss
Whether a $765 million settlement spread 4,500 ways can help injured players remains to be seen. While settlement of the class action suit did not reveal how early the NFL knew about the harmful effects of concussions, individual lawsuits against the NFL may yet reveal that information. The game is not over yet.